What do we mean, in Britain, when we talk about “traditional working-class regions”? It’s a concept that has often turned up in political commentary, particularly in debates after Brexit, in which references to the so-called red wall seats lost by Labour to the Conservatives in 2019 became shorthand for “ordinary working-classs places” – a phrase that rests upon an often unexamined set of assumptions about the politics and social attitudes of working-class people.

Today we’re going to hear some stories that question and even upend those assumptions. Valerie Wright, Ewan Gibbs, and Diarmaid Kelliher, all based at the University of Glasgow, have interviewed ex-industrial workers as part of oral history projects focused on what might be considered “traditional w-c communities”, areas that were dominated by heavy industries employing primarily white male workers and that were subject to massive disruptions in the second half of the 20th century.

Yet the stories they tell about those communities are distinctly at odds with common assumptions about class and region, about schisms and solidarities. What they suggest is just how complex and tangled questions of class identity can be.

This is the third in a three-part series on rethinking British labour history after Brexit, a series that grows out of a research network titled Writing Labour History in Brexit Britain. Do be sure to listen to the two earlier episodes, devoted to race and to gender.

Banner from the Joint Occupation Committee that led the 1987 occupation. Photo courtesy Ewan Gibbs.

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